More than 50 select hounds representing 24 packs, upwards of 120 horses, and scores of foxhunting supporters from across North America and the UK gathered in Fitzpatrick, AL, for three days of competition and camaraderie over November 5-7. Hosted by Midland Fox Hounds, the Grand Championship Hark Forward Performance Trials echoed historic matches from the past, while affirming our sport's vitality and value in the 21st century.

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Participants gather on the final day at Foxpatrick. Back row: David Kruger, Epp Wilson, Karen Kressenberg, Judith Wilson, John Gray, Eleanor Hartwell, Rosie Campbell, Jean Derrick, Ryan Johnsey, Wendy Collins Gutfarb, Sarah Wildasin, Tony Leahy. Front row: Ryan Beer, Bill Haggard, Leilani Gray, Mason Lampton, Melissa Rice, Marion Thorne, Katherine Gunter, Susan Walker, Brenda Yost, Glen Westmoreland, Keith Gray, Bart Poole. M. Drum photo. 

Last season's Hark Forward initiative, stregthening bonds between foxhunters and raising funds for the new MFHA home in Middleburg, VA, included 12 regional performance trials, and only the top hounds from each of these were invited to the Championship. Fitzpatrick's flat, open country is hunted by the Midland pack, lovingly and expertly developed by legendary houndsman, the late Ben Hardaway, MFH. Determined to honor his passion for hound breeding and trial competition, the Midland community and the Championship committee organized a welcoming, generous, and high-spirited event with every detail planned out and opportunities for everyone to participate.

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Hound show (and later mounted) judges Dennis Foster and Tim Easby. Photo by Allison Howell.

Formal events got underway Monday afternoon, with the Hound Show and Calcutta. Former MFHA Executive Director Dennis Foster and his British counterpart, Tim Easby, judged dog hounds, while MFHA First Vice President and Mooreland (AL) joint Master, Leslie Crosby, and Charmian Green from the UK judged the bitches. The atmosphere ringside was buzzing as folks from as far as Nebraska and New Mexico caught up with new and old friends from New York, Kansas, Georgia, and many places in between.

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Charmian Green and Leslie Crosby judged the bitches at the show and also served as mounted judges in the field. Photo by Allison Howell.

Top hounds on the boards included Longreen Future, Penn-Marydel Champion; Aiken Vampire, American and overall Reserve Champion; Hillsboro Salty, English (and ultimately, Overall Grand Champion Performance Trial Hound), and Midland Saber, Crossbred and overall Hound Show Champion, selected by judge Frank Houghton Brown of the UK.

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 Frank Brown makes his selection for Best in Show, under the lights at Foxpatrick. Left to right: Susan Walker with Longreen Future, Katherine Gunter and Aiken Vampire (Reserve Champion), Hillsboro Salty with Johnny Gray, and Champion Midland Saber with Ken George. M. Drum photo.

After the winners had been recognized at dinner, Easby observed, "This is extraordinary because this brings foxhunting from North America together, and to get so many packs of hounds who have traveled the distance that you all have, shows the passion that you all have for your hounds." Speaking to host and Midland joint Master, Mason Houghland Lampton, Easby added, "The great thing is that you are not possessive about your hounds, you share them. And when you have good hounds, you're happy to give them to other people," a nod to Mr. Hardaway's well-known generosity with sharing bloodlines.

MFHA President and Fox River Valley - Massbach Hounds MFH Tony Leahy also thanked Lampton and his wife, Mary Lu, for their tremendous efforts spearheading the event: "What you've done for the sport, what your family has done on both sides, you're really a great foxhunting family - thank you so much!" Leahy also recognized the Championship committee, including the Hark Forward Performance Trials series chairman Epp Wilson, MFH, Jean Derrick, Mason Hardaway Lampton, MFH, Ken George, Erin Gray, Robert Miller, Justin Simpson, and Christy Stapleman, as well as the Championship Performance Trials President, Cameron Sadler, MFH.

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Jackets were waived for the warm first day from Rutland's farm. Photo by Allison Howell.

The tiny crossroads of Fitzpatrick, about 30 minutes outside the state capital of Montgomery, was ready for the pilgrimage: "Tent City," temporary stabling rivaling any A-show, with ample parking, lights, and necessary utilities, was available just a few minutes from social events and the first fixture. Hounds moved off from Tent City on the second day. The Fitzpatrick Volunteer Fire Department graciously provided dinner Monday night at the inviting Foxpatrick Pavilion, and was in turn the beneficiary of the hunt Calcutta fundraiser that evening. Locals also kindly served as road guides and offered four-wheelers to maximize everyone's opportunity to (try to) keep up with hounds.

Tuesday morning's fixture was the expansive farm of Frank Rutland, with large grass fields adjoining neighboring cattle and cropland and some small creeks and wooded coverts. The temperature was warm and rose quickly into the upper '70s, leading to a brief but soaking downpour which the field (who had been invited to leave their hunt coats at trailers) withstood cheerfully. Despite the warm conditions, hounds found a game coyote almost immediately for performance trials huntsman Ashley Hubbard of Green Spring Valley Hounds (MD).

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Performance Trials huntsman Ashley Hubbard in the open Fitzpatrick country. Photo by Allison Howell.

A blistering chase followed, pressing the pack and riders to keep up over several miles at a respectable under-three-minutes-per-mile speed, according to trail app reports. This coyote was accounted for close by a swampy area, allowing the guest staff, including whippers-in Sam Clifton, Rhodri Jones-Evans, and Darren Houser and road whippers-in Dr. Andy Calloway, Justin Simpson, Robert Miller, and Boo Montgomery an opportunity to check in and bring hounds up for the next cast. This effort led to further sport behind another coyote, but with the thermometer approaching 80 degrees and the pack somewhat spread out, Hubbard chose to return to the meet just short of the alloted three-hour period.

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Foxhunters from several packs share stories after the first day's hunting. M. Drum photo.

Mr. Rutland, along with Mr. and Mrs. Will Wilson, provided a true Southern buffet for the guests under the shaded pavilion next to his home. Attendees devoured fried chicken, collard greens, beans, cornbread, and all the extras. The building also featured dozens of trophies earned by Mr. Rutland's champion gun dogs at field trials across the United States, and he patiently discussed his training methods and breeding program with the mounted foxhunters.

This meal was another opportunity to recognize the generosity of everyone who worked to pull this ultimate Hark Forward event together. British judge Frank Houghton Brown described Mr. Rutland, along with the neighboring landowners, as "the star of the show - you need a pitch to play on ... this was just glorious," and went on to state, "What I like to take away from a hound trial is not the winner, it's the coming together of all these fellow hound enthusiasts from all over the world. It's just this sort of unified body of hunting people, it's this wonderful getting-together, and that's what the staff here and the landowners have done for us."

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Four-wheeled followers listen intently for the pack. Photo by Allison Howell.

After an afternoon of tending to horses, hounds, and tack, the participants were invited to a magnificent dinner at High Log House, the elder Lamptons' home. Sporting art and personal trophies earned through generations on display around the house sparked conversations and memories before the results of the first day's hunting were announced to the enthusiastic crowd. While the home team of Midland Fox Hounds performed well, as expected, the top ten hounds from Day 1 represented six different packs from five different states, with another four hunts represented in the top 15.

On the second and final hunting day, hounds met at Tent City, again offering broad open fields edged by woody coverts and some wet areas. The temperature was a little cooler and, according to huntsman Hubbard, the hounds worked much more cohesively on their second outing together. A black coyote provided sport on this day, leading the field on a steady run before going to ground in a large hold in a grassy field. A few hounds pursued their quarry below ground, allowing good opportunities for the judges to award Full Cry and Marking scores. Mounted judges included Brown, Crosby, Easby, Foster, Green, Dinwiddle Lampton, and Lincoln Sadler, MFH, along with road judges Steve Clifton, Toddy Smith, and Rick Conger. As all felt hounds had had a fair opportunity to be evaluated, and some riders and horses were still recovering from the previous day's speed, Hubbard brought hounds in.

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The open fields gave the judges ample opportunities to score hounds. Photo by Allison Howell.

Hubbard had been invited to serve as huntsman back at the Virginia Hound Show last May. Asked about his experience carrying the horn for such an august event, Hubbard exclaimed, "It was awesome! I was really pleased with the hounds. There was a lot of variation in fitness, and in type of hound, as you would expect, and that was a factor on the very fast first day. But today they were truly a pack and hunted that way." He selected Midland Bliss as the Huntsman's Pick of the trials, commenting, "For her to run as hard as she did the first day, and then still be up there running today - better, even - and put the coyote in - it was really something."

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Huntsman's Pick, Reserve Champion and representing the Overall Champion Hunt, Midland Bliss. Photo by Allison Howell.

The concluding luncheon back at Foxpatrick Pavilion was high-spirited and full of anticipation as final results were calculated. Epp Wilson acknowledged, to the cheers of the crowd, the work of Jeb Blount in developing a scoring program that allows results to be announced in minutes, instead of days. While Crossbreds dominated the final ranking, hounds representing all four major breeds - from 12 different packs - scored Top Ten individual placings, a testament to the ability of a good hound to hunt well in any country. At the end of the two days' hunting, Hillsboro Salty '15 (Hillsboro Flintstone '11 x Their Sable '13) was the Champion Performance Trial Hound, with Midland Bliss '12 (Midland Wilton '08 x Their Birdsong '06) the Reserve Champion. These two outstanding packs traded places for the Overall Hunt title, with Midland taking the tricolor and Hillsboro second - followed by Shawnee Hounds (IL), carried by their outstanding Crossbred bitch, Zin '15 (Shawnee Yella '13 x Their Wendy '13), who placed sixth overall.

Interestingly, four competing hounds were littermates, bred by one of the judges, Charmian Green. We'll feature more on this remarkable reunion in the Winter 2019 print issue of Covertside magazine. The four English hounds, by Ledbury Glider '12 out of Warwickshire Daylight '12, represented Bull Run, Hillsboro, and Mill Creek at the trials.

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Getting it done: Overall Champion, Hillsboro Salty, hard at work. Photo by Allison Howell.

The MFHA extends its congratulations to all competitors, and tremendous gratitude to the organizers, hosts, participants, and supporters. Ben Hardaway stated in Never Outfoxed, "I will flatly say that hound trials - that is packs of hounds competing in the field - give breeders a marvelous chance to compare and judge the hunting qualities of the hounds." This remarkable event surely carried forward his legacy, and further strengthened the generous and welcoming community of North American foxhunters. 

For complete results, please click here.

 

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